MALT AND BARLEY REVIEW

Tom Morton gets bidding!

Whisky salvaged from the SS Politician
Whisky salvaged from the SS Politician
I’m having to watch myself with Scotch Whisky Auctions. It’s more than seductive, it’s almost irresistible, and the publicity for the current sale, which ends on 5 May, must have dragged in many thousands of would-be bidders otherwise immune to the blandishments of this eBay for drams. Two of only eight known surviving bottles of ‘Polly’ – spirit salvaged from the ‘Whisky Galore’ wreck of the SS Politician off Eriskay. Sitting, last time I looked, at £2700 the pair. Bargain, considering they sold at Christies for £4000 back in the 80s.

Not that you can’t buy whisky on eBay – you can, though under somewhat dodgy circumstances. The site’s rules mean that you’re not supposed to sell intoxicating liquor. What happened in the past was that full bottles of whisky would be posted for sale, and pictured, but with the stipulation (hint-hint, nudge-nudge) that ‘you are bidding for the bottle and packaging only. Contents not included.’ Aye. Pull the other one…

Ardbeg Galileo
Ardbeg Galileo
The regulations have since been tightened, but a quick check shows that circumvention is still underway. You can’t show a full bottle, but you can show an empty one and suggest that ‘other bottles are available – please enquire’). You can advertise ‘presentation box and bottle for sale – new’ and show said item without revealing the actual bottle. The clue is usually in the starting price. Who pays a minimum 30 quid for an empty bottle and cardboard box, after all? Of something you can get full of Braveheart Juice for £35 in your local supermarket?

There have been serious problems with this carry-on, doubtless exasperating eBay management: in that these auctions explicitly claim NOT to include any liquid, when they arrive empty, the buyer has no chance of compensation. And more subtly, there have been cases of very rare, collectible bottle of whisky being sold on eBay turning out to contain not the advertised 50-year-old Glen Ludicrous but something much, much cheaper. Like cold tea. Or something from a cash and carry’s bottom shelf. Again, no comebacks.

Indeed, that fraudulent refilling/resealing is an issue for the entire collector’s market. If all you do is collect rare whiskies, rather than drink them, does it matter what’s in the bottle? Well yes. But how, short of expensive scientific procedures, are you to tell?

Uniroyal Anniversary Scotch
Uniroyal Anniversary Scotch

Best to buy whisky for drinking. Or ensure there is complete authentication, something Scotch Whisky Auctions seems to be very good at, providing a full returns service in the event of any doubt about authenticity or provenance. And for the drinkers among us, the SWA site is a potential treasure trove, offering very good prices for difficult to find but economically accessible drams. And bargains too. Aberlour for £15? Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Blend for a tenner? No problems, according to previous auctions.

The auction which ends on 5 May includes a couple of very difficult to find Ardbeg Galileos (World Whiskies Awards single malt of the year) as well as some bargain basement items that I do not see any need to tell you about, seeing as I’m currently the highest bidder on several. I have not, however, bid on the bottle of ‘Uniroyal 125th Anniversary’, as I’d never heard of that distillery. Until I realised it commemorated 125 years of Uniroyal-Englebert Continental Tyres. A fiver, though? Haud me back!

The SWA (they coyly refer to ‘the OTHER SWA, which is to say, the Scotch Whisky Association) website is simple to register for and easy to use. I have a few quibbles with bids mysteriously being rejected, and the registration fee being advertised as a fiver when it’s actually £6.00, but on the whole it seems…well. As I say, irresisitible. I await 5 May with interest. And to be honest, not a great deal of expectation. But you never know your luck…